Louisiana v. Mississippi

RESPONDENT: Mississippi
LOCATION: Seminole Tribe

DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)

CITATION: 516 US 22 (1995)
DECIDED: Oct 31, 1995
ARGUED: Oct 03, 1995

Facts of the case


Media for Louisiana v. Mississippi

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 03, 1995 in Louisiana v. Mississippi

John Paul Stevens:

We will hear argument in Number 121 Original, Louisiana v. Mississippi.

Mr. Keyser, you may proceed.

Gary L. Keyser:

Justice Stevens, and may it please the Court:

Louisiana's circumstances here today are decidedly less happy than they were 3 years ago in November of 1992, when we were here on the same case.

Since that time, we have had an opportunity to supplement the trial record from the Federal district court in Vicksburg with more than 200 additional exhibits and more than a dozen new witnesses who have augmented the trial testimony and we believe clarified it perfectly well.

Unfortunately, the reason we're here is because we filed exceptions to the report of the special master which has essentially tracked the district court, which was reversed by the Fifth Circuit in favor of Louisiana.

We hope to persuade the Court that Louisiana, like all other States, is entitled to some river frontage, to some access to navigation, and that there should not be an interstate boundary along our levee and along the bank of the river at Lake Providence, Louisiana, where the river never found its main course.

In order for a boundary to be drawn there, as Mr. Austin Smith contends--

John Paul Stevens:

You say the river never found its main course?

Are you saying the thalweg was never west of the island?

Gary L. Keyser:

--When you say island, Justice Stevens--

John Paul Stevens:

Stack Island.

Gary L. Keyser:

--Well, the original Stack Island of 1881 was 6 miles northeast of that location.

John Paul Stevens:


Gary L. Keyser:

The boundary is sought to be drawn--

John Paul Stevens:

Are you saying that the thalweg was never west of that island?

Gary L. Keyser:

--Yes, sir.

Mr. Brien Winkley, the chief hydrologist for the Corps of Engineers, said it was never there, and he produced all hydrographic surveys for all known periods of time to show where the thalweg was every year, and those hydrographic surveys were introduced into evidence, carefully explained by Mr. Brien Winkley, by Mr. Mike Mayeux, a professional land surveyor, and by Dr. Ernie Easterly, who is a forensic geographic and fluvial geomorphologist.

All of them tracked the deepest geologic thalweg of the river, the downstream track of navigation for all periods of time, and none of them could find that the river was ever on the Mississippi levee, on the railroad tracks, across the property of Mr. Surles and Mr. House, or even across the Lake Providence Port Commission property, where Mr. Smith drew his boundary line.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Mr. Keyser, I'm confused on that point, because I thought that Dr. Easterly testified in answer... there's this colloquy in the third supplemental transcript at 315, 313 to 15.

He's asked the question, so the logical conclusion, then, is that the boundary thalweg was west of Stack Island at its formation, and the answer is, that is correct.

Gary L. Keyser:


The answer there refers to the northeast position of the original position of Stack Island in 1881.

That's 6 miles, 5 to 6 miles northeast of the Louisiana levee.

That's why there's so much confusion in this record.

You can never understand from one minute to the next which area you're talking about unless you do it by latitude and longitude.

David H. Souter:

Well, if we speak just in neutral terms about disputed territory, that will take care of that confusion, won't it?

Gary L. Keyser:

Or the disputed areas, sometimes referred to the accretion along the west bank at Lake Providence.

David H. Souter:

You said in your brief, I believe, that the line as the master has recommended that it be drawn now cuts through property which has been owned and farmed by Louisiana residents since I think the beginning of this century, and that statement was simply hotly disputed in Mississippi's brief as being a factual misstatement.

Could you either now, or if you can't do it at this moment, perhaps by a letter to the Clerk after the argument is over, point me to sort of the exact places in the transcript, or the other evidence which supports that statement of yours?